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The Life of Radisson
 
Chapter Fifteen

Reaching Onondaga

The group now faced a crossing of a large body of water some 300 miles in length and 90 miles in breadth. The weather was warm and pleasant and the water was calm, so Radisson and his companion set up a makeshift sail out of cloth and used the breeze to push them far ahead of the other canoes. His Iroquois companion liked the sail very much since, in Radisson's view, Indians were naturally given to laziness. Unfortunately the wind was coming from the shore so they were pushed way out into the deeper waters of the lake. Because of this they didn't see their companions making signs at them that bad weather was coming. In no time the wind picked up so they took down the sail and began using their arms to paddle. A storm hit and rain fell until they were pushed backwards by fierce gusts and great quantities of water was filling their boat. They both thought they were going to die.

"See your God that you Frenchmen say is above," said the Iroquois. "Will you make me believe now that he is good, as the blackcoats say? They do lie and you see the contrary; for first you see that the sun burns us often and the rain wets us, and the wind makes us have shipwrecks and the thundering and lightning burns and kills. All come from above and you say that it's good to be there. For my part I will not go there. The blackcoats say that the reprobates and guilty go down and burn. They are mistaken; all is good here. Do you not see the earth that nourishes all living creatures, the water, the fishes, the corn and all other seasonable fruits for our food? These things are not so contrary to us as that from above."

He then took his knife and gun and showed them to the heavens, and said: "I will not be above; here will I stay on earth where all my friends are, and not with the French that are to be burned above with torments."

Out of distress, they tied a sack full of corn to the fore end of their canoe and threw it into the water, which hung down four fathoms. Then they put themselves in the other end so that the end that was towards the wind was higher than the back. By this means they escaped the waves that otherwise would have sunk their boat. To their amazement, they survived the storm and made it to shore. Radisson wondered if God showed his mercy on them because of the things that his young Iroquois companion said. To have survived the storm in the middle of the lake with such fierce waves was simply a miracle.

Like before, those in their group did not wait for them after their brush with death on the lake, so it took them several days of traveling before they spotted fires on the shore and met up with them once again. But the great winds blew and, due to the great banks of rocks where they were, Radisson could not dock his canoe. His companion waded into the water up to his armpits to grab hold of the canoe. They were able to throw their belongings into the water and then abandon the boat, which immediately crashed into pieces against the rocks.

Much relieved to have landed safely, they remained at the camp for three days because of the weather. It was here that another strange experience happened to Radisson. As he sat beside the fire one night a woman came to him. No one took any notice because there was never any jealously among the natives. In no time he heard some noise and saw the woman drying her newborn child by the fireside. Having done this she put her child by her bosom and went to bed as if nothing had happened, without a moan or cry. Before they left the camp however, the baby died. Radisson was tempted to baptize the baby but he didn't for fear of the Indians accusing him of being the cause of its death.

It was here by the river where the woman had given birth that Radisson was met by some Frenchmen who had ventured from the fort in Onondaga to meet him. Relieved that his destination was only 90 miles away, he enjoyed sitting around the fire and swapping adventure stories with his fellow countrymen. They journeyed together to the French fort by water where Radisson found a most fair castle very nearly built. The bottom was built with great trees and well tied on the top that made the fort impregnable to the wild men. This was the plantation that had been started the previous year in 1656 by Joseph-Marie Chaumonot and Calude Dablon in the modern-day town of Salina near Syracuse New York.

Radisson thought the country was beautiful with plenty of corn growing as well as French turnips, chestnuts and acorns and innumerable different kinds of fruit. There was fish to catch and there were fat hogs and all sorts of fowl. They were all met by the Jesuit fathers and about 40 Frenchmen, but before they were able to engage in the numerous recreations of the small plantation, a fever broke out among the inhabitants that sidelined most of the population.


 

 

Chapter Sixteen

Conspiracy to Kill the French

When they had time to converse with the French at Onondaga, he learned the fate of those left behind just after their departure from Montreal. The group behind them did embark after Radisson's expedition had left, following close behind them all the way to the fort. When that had arrived at the island where the massacre of the six French had taken place, they had found a Huron woman half starved from hunger. She had watched Radisson's group pass and then had scourged the area for leftover food but could find only grapes. She had resolved to face her own death until they noticed her hiding in a hollowed-out tree trunk. The Jesuit father, seeing that she was a converted Christian, took special care of her until she saw a man load his gun. She was convinced that she was going to be killed and ran off again. They could not find her and continued on their way to Onondaga.

Now that the original group was reunited at their appointed destination, there were many French who were keen on returning to Quebec because of a strong feeling of suspicion and mistrust among them towards the Iroquois. After six weeks of recovering from the fever that had hit them at the camp, thirteen Frenchmen and one Jesuit father decided to return. Radisson was part of the party that would take them part of the way back. It was a somewhat tearful farewell as everyone was aware of the potential perils they faced journeying back to the safety of the colony.

On the way back to Onondaga, Radisson's escort group stopped off at an Iroquois village and heard that three renegade Hurons had found the starving woman. Not seeing that she was of their own nation, they stripped her naked, as was their custom when finding someone lost in the woods, and brought her to the Jesuit father who had first found her some time before. The blackrobe was living in this village and he considered it a miracle of God that she had been found again. But despite the special attention the father gave her, the Iroquois who traveled from Montreal with the Frenchmen took her as their slave.

During the six days Radisson stayed in this village, there was another incident among these Iroquois. There was a man who was warned for his insolence because he had not conferred with the chief of the village. The man had taken two women as slaves that included the women's two children. As was custom among them, any captives must be presented to the council so the chief can decide what to do with them. This man chose not to consult with the council so the elders confronted him.

"Who are these slaves," they asked.

"They're mine," he answered. The man's uncle replied to him.

"Nephew, you must know that all slaves, men as well as women, are first brought before the council, and we alone dispose of them." The uncle gave a nod to some soldiers who stood nearby, and they took the two women and knocked them in the head, murdering them. One of the soldiers took the child, put his foot on the child's head, grabbed the child's legs with his hands and then turned the body so that the head was twisted off from the body. Another soldier took the other child from its mother's breast by the feet and knocked its head against the trunk of a tree. During his time living among the Iroquois, Radisson had seen others like these captives slain because they could not serve properly or because children hindered their mothers from working hard.

Just before Radisson's escort group planned to leave the village that was five miles from the French fort, they heard about the Huron who had escaped from the massacre on the island. After suffering in the forests from hunger and privation for many weeks, he had arrived in the village and spoke of wrathful revenge against the French, especially against the Jesuit fathers. He said that fathers had betrayed the Hurons, and that he would bestow the same upon them if he ever met a Frenchman again. He thanked heaven that he was still alive and warned the Iroquois not to let the French build a fort in their country. He reminded them what had happened to the Nation of the Stags who had let the French build a fort in their country only to be decimated by disease, which was the result of their sorcery. In a society that had an insatiable thirst for war, Radisson was concerned to hear these words so close to where he was now living in Onondaga.

They were barely into autumn when Radisson and some other Frenchmen heard that the Iroquois were conspiring treason against the French. They learned that the Iroquois planned to raise an army of 500 men from their own nation as well as warriors from the Anojot to assist them. They believed they could take the fort with ease because they were esteemed to be the best fighters of all the Indian nations, and because if they made a concerted effort to appease the French by giving them gifts and keeping the peace it could be a surprise attack. Most of the French didn't know the Iroquois language but since Radisson understood both the language and customs, he knew they were preparing for an assault. Their daily exercises were feasting, singing war songs, throwing their hatchets and breaking kettles.

"We must resolve to be on our guard being in the middle of our enemy's land," he said to his countrymen. "For this purpose we must begin to make provisions for the future." Radisson caught wind that a group of Anojot was marching toward their fort to declare open war on the French. He knew this tribe often attacked Frenchmen around Montreal who wandered off too far from the safety of the settlement. He saw the only sensible thing they could do was to leave, but the problem was that they had no boats.

The French who were in the fort had their spies in the villages that surrounded Onondaga, many of whom were the Jesuit priests who administered to the natives at their own peril. Radisson too visited the elders at the council by giving gifts and hearing from them bits and pieces of information that gave the French a good idea that the council had discussed the problem of the French, and thus wanted to ask some questions directly to the Jesuit fathers, who they regarded as sorcerers and medicine men. From these answers they would make a decision about what would happen to the French.

Knowing that the Iroquois were planning on a visit to the fort, they prepared to hide the evidence that they were building boats. They built a double floor in the hall of the fort to build the ship so that the Onandoga, being ignorant of their way of building, could not take any notice of their cunning. It was successful so they continued to build the boats without their knowledge, making an effort to keep up relations with the Iroquois in the meantime. These boats were big so only two were required to transport the entire population of the fort. (The boats were based on the measurements stated in the Old Testament when Noah was given the precise measurements for the ark. Proportionally decressing these measurements, the boats would have a large bottom that would be big enough to carry everyone from the fort as well as their things). It was Radisson's opinion that the Iroquois wouldn't suspect their plan because Quebec was too far and too difficult to reach, being full of rapids and swift rivers.

 

 
 
Table of Contents

           PART ONE: FIRST VOYAGE

          1 - Radisson's Capture by the Iroquois

          2 - How Radisson Earned Respect

          3 - Adoption into a Mohawk Family

          4 - His Escape

          5 - Recapture and Torture

          6 - Endurance

          7 - Acceptance

          8 - Going On the Warpath

          9 - The War Continues

          10 - The Hollanders

          11 - Escape to Fort Orange

         PART TWO: SECOND VOYAGE

          12 - Becoming an Interpreter for the Jesuits

          13 - "Mistrust is the Mother of Safety"

          14 - Meeting Old Friends

          15 - Reaching Onondaga

          16 - Conspiracy to Kill the French

          17 - Fleeing the Fort

          PART THREE: THIRD VOYAGE

          18 - Becoming a Les Voyageurs

          19 - Huronia Jesuit Mission and Brebeuf

          20 - Radisson and Groseilliers Go West

          21 - Reaching the Gateway to Lake Superior

          22 - Exploring Lake Superior

 

 
 

 

 
 

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